14 Sep 2012
Nokia's forthcoming Lumia 920 made a surprise appearance at Qualcomm's IQ Berlin 2012 event. On hand at the show, V3 took the time to take a more thorough look at Nokia's new Pureview camera packed smartphone.
Design and build
Visually the Lumia 920 looks incredibly similar to Nokia's previous flagship smartphone, the Lumia 900. Both phones feature the same striking Lumia design, featuring curved sides, flat tops and pointed edges. The two smartphones are also incredibly similar in size, with the 920 measuring in at 130x71x10.7mm and the 900 measuring 128x69x12mm
However, in hand the Lumia 920 feels like a completely different handset. This is largely due to the Lumia 920's carbonate casing finish. Where the 900 and 800 featured matte finishes, the 920's casing is shiny and significantly smoother. This makes the Lumia 920 feel fairly different and gives it a more striking look when viewed up close.
Another key factor differentiating the Lumia 920 from the 900 is that Nokia has given it a curved glass display. In hand this meant that we found the 920 much more comfortable to hold, with it making the device's design feel a bit more ergonomic than its flat-screened predecessor.
The Lumia 920 features a 4.5in Nokia PureMotion HD+ WXGA IPS LCD display, complete with Super Sensitive touch technology and Nokia ClearBlack with high brightness mode and enhancements designed to make it easier to read in sunlight.
Nokia claims that the technology makes the 920's display one of the crispest on market. Testing the screen in the dark, poorly lit conditions of the IQ 2012 conference centre, we found the screen looked amazing. Putting the 920 head to head with the Lumia 800 and HTC One X during our tests, we would honestly say the 920 looked the best.
Unfortunately, we didn't get a chance to test the Lumia 920's screen in regular or outdoor lighting conditions, meaning we didn't get to see how the device's Nokia ClearBlack technology with its high brightness mode or sunlight tweaks turned on.
The Lumia 920 comes with Microsoft's Windows Phone 8 operating system. The OS is set for release in October and adds a host of new features and services to Microsoft's mobile offering. The upgrades include resizable tiles, multi-core processor support and improved security. Not content with these core upgrades, Nokia has added to the WP8 features with its own series of custom services.
Chief of the new services available on the Lumia 920 is Nokia's new City Lens feature. The feature offers users an augmented reality display that gives dynamic information about users' surroundings.
City Lens is one of the new Lumia smartphone's most interesting additions and we were really keen to properly test it out, unfortunately though, being stuck in a windowless conference hall we didn't get the chance. However, our demo video from the Lumia 920 launch showed impressive results.
The Lumia 920 features a 1.5GHz Dual Core Snapdragon S4 that is backed up by 1GB of RAM. Nokia claims the tech will allow the Lumia 920 to match the performance of most top-end quad-core Android handsets, arguing that Windows Phone 8 is significantly less power hungry than Android.
During our hands-on, we tried racing the 920 against the One X, seeing which smartphone was faster loading web pages faster and was smoother to navigate and found that there was some truth to Nokia's boasts.
The Lumia 920 matched the One X step for step, with it being all but impossible to tell which was faster. We're really looking forward to getting a chance to put the Lumia 920 through its paces, seeing how it deals with more power hungry, intensive tasks come our full review.
The Lumia 920 comes with an 8.7MP rear-facing camera complete with Nokia PureView advanced optical image stabilisation technology and Carl Zeiss optics.
Nokia claims the Lumia 920's rear camera is the best currently available on any smartphone capturing "five to 10 times more light than competitors devices".
During our hands on we didn't really get a chance to try out the Lumia 920's camera, with the Nokia spokesman on call all but slapping the device out of our hands the moment our fingers veered towards the photo app. Maybe the firm is still touchy about fake photo-gate.
Overall our opening impressions of Nokia's Lumia 920 are incredibly positive. Even though the device looks incredibly similar to the Lumia 900, even in the short time we had the device, it became increasingly clear that the 920 is a radically different handset, featuring greatly improved tech and software.
While we're not convinced the Lumia 920 will turn around Windows Phone's fortunes overnight, we were impressed with our initial demo.
Check back with V3 soon for a full review of the Nokia Lumia 920.
BERLIN: Qualcomm's developer tablet was on show at the company's IQ 2012 Berlin event on Monday.
V3 took the chance to test the Qualcomm developer tablet's Snapdragon processor against the Exynos quad-core chip used in Samsung's popular Galaxy Note 10.1.
On paper, the Note and Qualcomm development tablet are incredibly similar. Both devices run Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich and house 10.1in screens.
Additionally, both the Note and the development tablet feature processors made by their parent companies. Specifically, the Note 10.1 features a Samsung-made 1.4GHz quad-core Exynos 4412 processor, while Qualcomm's development model packs a 1.5GHz quad-core Snapdragon S4 Pro.
This means comparing the two should be fair, with both featuring custom designed components.
To start its comparison, V3 tested both the Note and the development tablet using the Antutu and Quadrant benchmarking apps. On both occasions Qualcomm's Snapdragon S4 Pro demo unit came out on top.
Qualcomm's Snapdragon demo unit scored an impressive 138,888 on Antutu; the Note by comparison scored a still impressive 12,578.
With Quadrant's CPU, I/O and 3D graphics benchmark, the Qualcomm tablet scored 7,639, while Samsung's Galaxy Note tablet scored a less impressive 5,261.
This means that on paper the Qualcomm developer tablet is on paper one of the fastest we've ever seen, easily trumping most, if not all of the top end tablets currently available.
Interestingly though this increased power doesn't translate into a better user experience on Qualcomm's demo unit.
The Qualcomm tablet is by its nature a demo product and as such doesn't feature the same polished feel the Note does. The Snapdragon tablet's WXGA display is significantly less responsive than the Note's and doing basic things like navigating the display is cumbersome.
Additionally, the Qualcomm demo unit's 13MP camera didn't really live up to our expectations. While photos taken using the unit looked reasonable, they weren't as detailed as we'd expect. We're thinking this is due to a software oversight that stops the tablet taking full advantage of its 13MP sensor.
While these oversights can be forgiven on a demo unit, they would be unforgivable on a product released for purchase to the general public. Hopefully though these problems will be fixed by other manufacturers hoping to release products using the Snapdragon S4 Pro, letting the impressive processor really show off what it can do.
Check back with V3 later for further coverage of Qualcomm's IQ 2012 event.
06 Sep 2012
Nokia made quite a splash at the launch of its new Lumia handsets, the first from the Finnish giant to feature Microsoft's upcoming Windows Phone 8 platform, set to launch in October.
Of the two, the Lumia 920 (pictured) is the larger and better specified device, with a 4.5in 1280x768 display, dual-core 1.5GHz Snapdragon S4 processor, 1GB of memory and 32GB of storage.
However, the headline feature that most users will seize on is the handset's 8MP rear camera featuring Nokia's Pureview technology, including features such as optical image stabilisation (OIS) to eliminate blurry images and improve pictures shot in low light conditions.
Nokia also makes use of the camera and hi-res display to good effect with its Nokia City Lens Augmented Reality app, which super-imposes the names of coffee shops, restaurants and other destinations on the screen while the user is using it to view through the camera lens.
The handset itself is 10.7mm thick and weighs 185g, making it a little on the large and weighty side as smartphones go.
Unlike earlier Windows Phone devices, the Lumia 920 now has a a microSD slot for adding flash storage, plus support for 4G LTE network connectivity, where available.
The Lumia 920 also supports Near Field Communication (NFC) technology to enable applications such as contactless payments, and supports wireless battery charging via the Qi charging standard.
Nokia even offers a Wireless Charging Pillow manufactured by the Fatboy bean bag company (see below).
A video demo of the Nokia Lumia 920 handset and all its key features can be found on the V3 site, and we expect to have a more detailed review in future.
Samsung unveiled its Ativ S Windows Phone 8 smartphone at IFA, a week before Nokia's prescheduled New York event, in a move clearly designed to steal some of the Finnish phone maker's thunder.
Since then Nokia has unveiled its new flagship Lumia 920 smartphone, leading to speculation over whether Samsung will be able to wrest control of the Windows Phone ecosystem.
In terms of specifications, little is known about the Ativ S, other than it will run using the Microsoft Windows Phone 8 operating system. But from what we do know, it will be fairly similar to the Lumia 920's specs.
The Ativ S will pack a sizeable 4.8in Super Amoled display, while the 920 will feature a 4.5in Nokia PureMotion HD+ WXGA IPS LCD screen. The question here will be whether Nokia's PureMotion HD+ will be able to match Samsung's Super Amoled technology's performance.
The Puremotion HD+ technology is an evolved version of the ClearBlack feature seen on Nokia's Lumia 800 and 900 smartphones.
While we were impressed with the earlier Lumia's screens, we couldn't honestly say they were as good as the Super Amoled displays seen on Samsung's recent top-end Galaxy smartphones.
This means Nokia will have had to seriously improve the technology if the Lumia 920 is going to compete with the Ativ S display.
Both the Ativ S and Lumia 920 have been confirmed to run using 1.5GHz dual-core processors. As Windows Phone 8 is significantly less power hungry than Android, we're expecting both smartphones to be incredibly fast and more than capable of matching most top-end Android devices' speeds.
Technically, the only factor we can see that will help the Lumia 920 differentiate itself from the Ativ S is the inclusion of Nokia's incredible Pureview camera technology.
Nokia claims that the Pureview technology means that the Lumia 920's 8.7MP rear camera is the best currently available on any smartphone capturing "five to 10 times more light than competitors devices". If it's anything like the camera tech seen on the 808 Pureview, we believe it.
That said, as noted by several industry analysts, it's not just about the Lumia 920's and Ativ S' technical prowess, it's also about their software.
Nokia already has a strong history of developing for the Windows Phone platform, while Samsung at best can be described as having tested the water.
This means that, as far as we currently know, the Ativ S will be released running an untouched version of Windows Phone 8, while the Lumia 920 will feature a slew of custom-made Nokia apps and features.
"What makes the Lumia 920 unique from competitors are the range of services that Nokia developed to create additional value to its clients and to compete with other Windows Phones that will come to market in the next quarters," noted IDC analyst Francisco Jeronimo.
Nokia already confirmed its Nokia Maps, Transport, Music (in the US) and newly unveiled City Lens services will be featured on the 920. Many of these features have proven incredibly popular with existing Windows Phone users and have become a unique selling point for the Nokia brand.
Nokia's City Lens offers users an augmented reality display that gives dynamic information about users' surroundings. When considered alongside the other custom apps, we think it could be a serious factor differentiating the Lumia 920 from the Ativ S.
Combine this innovation with the Lumia 920's Fatboy wireless charger and we really have to question the Ativ S' current chances of succeeding in the Windows Phone 8 ecosystem.
Check back with V3 later in the year for full reviews of the Samsung Ativ S and Nokia Lumia 920.
04 Sep 2012
The Raspberry Pi Foundation has updated the recommended Debian Linux build for its low-cost single-board computer a couple of times since we reviewed the credit card-sized Raspberry Pi device in June, and we've been trying out the new versions.
Based on the Raspbian build of Debian, the latest "Wheezy" version of the Raspberry Pi software released on 16 August contains a similar set of development tools to the original build, along with example source code for multimedia functions, according to the Foundation, but has numerous tweaks, including a few to make it more user friendly.
The first thing users will notice if they upgrade is that the newer release throws up a lot more messages onto the screen as it starts, possibly indicating that the device is loading up more drivers than before.
The Raspberry Pi then runs a configuration tool, Raspi-config, which allows the user to set various options, including the keyboard layout, locale and timezone, as well as expanding the root partition to fill up the SD Card, if you are using a larger card than the minimum 4GB size.
As before, typing "startx" at the Bash command prompt loads the LXDE desktop GUI environment, but Wheezy now displays a text message handily informing you of this. Alternatively, Raspi-config lets the user set their Raspberry Pi to automatically boot straight to the desktop on startup.
The desktop environment itself has changed only slightly, with icon shortcuts to all the relevant tools now placed directly on the desktop itself, along with a handy Debian Reference document that loads in a browser.
An extra browser, Netsurf, has been added to the Dillo and Midori options previously available, while the develop tools now comprise the Idle environment for Python, the Squeak programming language, and the Scratch environment, along with a set of sample games and other simple applications.
The Wheezy build also has numerous enhancements under the hood, including taking greater advantage of the processor's floating point hardware.
We found performance under this build still somewhat sluggish, but it must be kept in mind that this is a £25 computer designed for education and experimentation, and not a games console or fully-specced PC.
31 Aug 2012
BERLIN: Samsung unveiled the Galaxy Note 2 at the IFA tradeshow in Berlin this week and we got some hands-on time with the device at Samsung's exhibition stand.
The first thing we noticed about the Galaxy Note 2 was its similarity to Samsung's flagship smartphone, the Galaxy S3. It's made from the same materials, having a very similar design with its rounded edges.
Though ergonomically it fits in the hand well considering its large size, it feels a little cheap due to the glazed plastic used in the casing, but Samsung says this improves reception.
One good thing that comes out of the textured plastic casing is that it makes the device really light and thin, weighing only 180g and measuring 9.4mm thick, which is excellent for a device of this size.
On the underside of the Note 2 sits the S-pen stylus which when you pull out an S-note document ready for writing on is presented on screen instantly.
Build quality isn't the highest we've seen on a smartphone, but what we did like about the Note 2 was that its bundled features, such as the S pen, seem to work well with the device, with touchscreen response being immediate.
Screen and performance
The best thing about the Note 2, though, is its super HD AMOLED screen that's even bigger than its predecessor, measuring an impressive 5.5in as opposed to the original Note's 5.275in display.
This has to be the best screen we've seen on a phone, ever. The colour representation is simply excellent. It's extremely bright and clear, and watching videos in HD 1080p resolution on the 16:9 ratio display was quite enjoyable.
Swiping your fingers across the screen leaves fewer greasy smudge marks than you'd expect, and copying and pasting images to and from various tabs with the stylus is a breeze. The Note 2's quad-core 1.6GHz processor and 2GB of RAM ensure that operations remain smooth and responsive with no waiting for it to complete simple tasks.
For example, when we played around with HD video, pulling it from YouTube onto the homepage and resizing it while it was playing, we didn't encounter any lag. Samsung really impressed us here.
The Note 2 brings a slew of new software features all loaded on top of the latest Android 4.1 Jelly Bean operating system. Perhaps it's Google's embedded Project Butter feature in the new version of the OS - a feature aiming to make tasks on the phone run more smoothly - that is responsible for the Note 2's ability to respond fast to commends.
Battery and camera
On our quick hands on, we found that the Galaxy Note 2 camera worked the same way it does on the Galaxy S3, only with a much bigger screen that makes picture taking a more pleasurable experience.
It has a rear-facing 8MP camera and a front-facing 1.9MP camera, and can also shoot full HD 1080p video. Unfortunately, we didn't get enough time with the Note 2 to really scrutinise it's camera's image quality reproduction in comparison to other high-end smartphones on the market, but this is something we'll do when we get our hands on the device for a full length review.
Nevertheless, in our tests the Note 2 camera was fairly good in taking photos quickly without blur, as long as you didn't move around while doing so.
As for the battery, Samsung claims the Note 2's 3,100mAh battery means that the device will last for at least a day. But as with the camera, we'll have to wait for the arrival of a review unit in the V3 offices so we can test the battery to see if this is really the case.
The Note 2 will ship globally in October, available in white and dark grey colour options. Check out our video demo to see the device in action as well.
16 Aug 2012
The release code of Windows 8 is finally available for subscribers of the Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) and TechNet to download and install, and V3 has had a brief look at the release to manufacturing (RTM) build of the platform to see what is new.
For those wondering what has changed in the shipping code of Windows 8, the short answer is not much, apart from a few cosmetic changes and some background art choices plus lock screen designs for users to personalise the way the display looks on their PC.
Those changes that have been introduced since the Release Preview version of Windows 8 was made available include the "Do Not Track" privacy setting enabled by default in the Internet Explorer 10 browser, and a Bing app for internet searches added to the start menu.
As far as most users are concerned, the experience of using Windows 8 RTM has thus changed little since the first preview version of the platform was released.
The new-style user interface has been much written about, and is a considerable change from the desktop that users have grown accustomed to in Windows versions right up to Windows 7.
Formerly known as "Metro-style" until very recently, this follows the design of Microsoft's Windows Phone platform, with the Start screen displaying live application tiles that include notifications and updates.
As most readers will now be aware, the user interface is designed primarily for touch-screen control on a tablet, not just when launching apps by touching their live tile, but also by using gestures where users might have used the mouse buttons previously, such as swiping in from the right edge of the screen to bring up a menu of options.
Existing Windows applications are relegated to the desktop, a separate environment accessed via a tile on the Start menu, where they retain the traditional look and feel. However, the Aero Glass effect is now gone.
We are not yet convinced that the new user interface will prove to be a hit with users rather than hated, but a great deal hangs on the success or otherwise of the new system.
The Windows 8 RTM code has supposedly been cleaned up by Microsoft to improve performance, but we did not notice any perceptible difference between this version and the pre-release builds.
This is not necessarily a bad thing, as the gesture-based user interface really does feel "fast and fluid", to quote Microsoft's own phrase.
One thing that did concern us is that IE 10 crashed several times while browsing during our hands-on tests, which does not bode well for the reliability of Windows 8, considering we were using a fresh install of the release version.
While the Windows 8 RTM does not contain many surprises from the pre-release versions, the platform as a whole introduces a great many new features compared with earlier editions of Windows such as Windows 7. We'll be looking over these in greater depth in a full review of Windows 8 in the near future.
16 Aug 2012
The Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 is the firm's latest attempt to take on the iPad and threaten Apple's dominance in the tablet market.
While it seems odd that Samsung would launch two 10.1in tablets at the same time, the Galaxy Note 10.1 has a special gimmick - its stylus pen.
Aimed at professionals and those who like to doodle, the tablet comes jam-packed with productivity and note-taking apps to tempt artistic types away from the iPad.
Design and build
Crafted from a lightweight plastic material, the 600g tablet seems impressively portable at first look, feeling much lighter than the latest 652g iPad. It's nice and slim too, measuring 262x180x8.9mm.
That's not to say that we're overly fond of the Galaxy Note 10.1's glossy casing, as the plastic material does feel quite cheap - disappointing considering the tablet's £399.99 starting price. Still, the white plastic is complemented with silver trim running around the edge, which although unlikely to withstand chips and scuffs gives the tablet a more high-end appearance.
One of the unique design features of this tablet is the slot that houses Samsung's S Pen, nestled subtly into the bottom right hand corner of the Galaxy Note 10.1. We found that having the stylus tucked away in a handy location meant that we reached to use it a lot more than we thought we would, making that a favourite touch.
Within the tablet's casing sits a 10.1in 1280x800 resolution toughscreen, which while not on par with its rivals in terms of pixel count, proved impressively bright with clear viewing angles, although we have yet to test it in bright sunlight. One gripe is that the screen manages to pick up fingerprints easily, and we found that we kept having to clean it after each use.
The Galaxy Note 10.1 has one of the highest sets of specifications of tablets available on the market, packing a 1.4GHz quad-core Exynos processor and 2GB of RAM under the hood. These of course help support Samsung's multitasking features, and we noticed no lag when swiping through home screens, opening apps and browsing the web. We're yet to put the tablet through its paces when it comes to gaming, but we can't see it having too much of a hard time coping.
Samsung has loaded the Galaxy Note 10.1 with Android 4.0.4 Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) and the firm is promising that it will upgrade the tablet to Android 4.1 Jelly Bean later this year. We don't think anyone will be that bothered about the lack of Jelly Bean on arrival though, as Samsung's heavily-tweaked Touchwiz user interface makes ICS almost unrecognisable.
The lock screen on the Galaxy Note 10.1 takes tips from the Samsung Galaxy S3 with its 'natural' swipe to unlock features, while the tablet's main home screen has been tweaked to focus on Samsung's own app selection: Video, Music and Games Hubs.
Productivity apps have also been placed at the forefront of the device, thanks to the tablet's included stylus, such as Samsung's S Note and S Planner apps and the included Adobe Photoshop Touch. While we liked the tweaked lock and home screens, these are unlikely to appeal to those who are after an untampered-with Android experience.
Multitasking is another focus of the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1, and one the tablet performs very well. As well as Pop up Play, a feature that lets you continue to watch a video while in other apps, our favourite multitasking feature is Samsung's new Multiscreen mode, which lets you have multiple apps open at the same time.
Simply tapping a button in the top right hand side of the screen lets you take advantage of the Multiscreen feature, which we found handy for tasks such as taking a screen shot of a video and pasting it straight into Samsung's S Note application and for taking notes while browsing a website.
This is where the stylus comes into its own, proving exceptionally responsive and easy to use. The pen is exceptionally better than the one found on Samsung's Galaxy Note smartphone, offering 1024 sensitivity levels compared to 256.
This, along with the included office and note-taking apps and added screenshot button, gives Android a much more business-like feel than we've experienced before, making this a great device for professionals.
While the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 doesn't match up to its competitors on paper, the tablet has managed to impress us on first look with its focus on productivity and excellent performance. Sure, it doesn't have the keyboard found on the Asus Transformer Infinity, for example, but Samsung's innovative software tweaks may well make this the best tablet of choice for professionals and creative types.
Check back next week for our full Samsung Galaxy Note review.